Glass Half Full-ish

Are you a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person? Country music artist, Travis Meadows, has said that he was the kind of guy who responded to that rhetorical question with: “Who drank my water?”

I, myself, have always had a difficult time determining which kind of gal I was or am.  I can be very optimistic and hopeful at times while seriously anxious at other times.  I suppose I must confess to being worried that I might spill my half-full glass.

Optimism vs. Pessimism

The glass half-full or half-empty analogy seems to hold up as a way of describing optimism vs. pessimism. Optimism is loosely defined as the belief that things will work out. “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Optimists view setbacks as temporary; problems are challenges that can often be fixed through grit and tenacity.

Pessimists have a tougher time recovering from life’s inevitable disappointments.  They tend to blame themselves, stewing in their own juices, and see setbacks as permanent.

We all know people on either extreme but the reality is that most of us fall somewhere on that continuum.  Perhaps we’re optimistic about certain things and pessimistic about others.  For example, one can be optimistic about finding gainful employment but pessimistic about finding a long-lasting romantic relationship or vice versa.

Positive Psychology

Prior to the positive psychology movement (roughly 30 years ago), the widely-held belief was that we are hardwired to be optimistic or pessimistic.  Although we don’t know the extent to which social conditioning and genetics influence any of our behaviors, newer research indicates that optimism can be learned. The daddy of learned optimism is Dr. Martin Seligman.

Seligman’s research focuses on training oneself to combat pessimism – and depression – by learning how to interpret adversity.  Although adversity happens, what is controllable is what we say to ourselves about our hardships. For example, we have little control over the driving habits of our fellow travelers but we do have control of how we react and how we interpret others’ behaviors.  Are bad drivers out to get us or are they distracted by their own life events? This reframing is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy.


With apologies to Marty Seligman, I don’t believe optimism is all that’s needed to deal with life’s difficulties. The flip side of any positive attribute, such as optimism, is a negative behavior or belief; likewise, the flip side of any so-called negative attribute is a positive belief.  Optimism can turn into unrealistic expectations and lack of preparation; conversely, the upside of pessimism can be an acceptance of reality. 

Being a recovering stepmother, I offer counseling and coaching to active stepmothers trying to survive and thrive in this difficult role. I have found that those who blend families or take on the step parenting role lean toward optimism.  The odds are against this arrangement but all the stepmoms I’ve met maintain the belief, at least initially, that they can beat those odds.

I believe acceptance goes a long way to ending suffering.Knowing when to cut bait is an important life skill to cultivate.When a job or a relationship isn’t working regardless of one’s effort, letting go is important.I reckon the next time I’m asked if I’m a glass half-full or half-empty gal, I can say with certainty, my glass is half full—ish